Books

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Wonder Women

I'm interested to read this book by the president of Barnard College: Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. I don't know that it's gotten much play with the news media or the academic media (Inside Higher Ed, etc.), so I want to do what I can to fix that. Debora Spar is a mom of three just like me. Maybe I'll be a college president one day too, heh.

Married Couple, Both Professors, Accused of Raping a Student

Wow. This story about a case involving two professors at Arkansas State is eerily similar to Joyce Carol Oates' excellent 2002 novella Beasts.

Over My Shoulder: Noise from the Writing Center

Here, if you don't remember, are the rules to Over My Shoulder. The book here is:

Boquet, Elizabeth H. Noise from the Writing Center. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2002.

The quotation is from pages 42-43, emphasis in original.

I fear, sometimes, that we are too willing to give our institutions what we think they want, whether or not it is what we want or, ultimately, even what they want. The shift from remediation to efficiency illustrates this point to me. We take great pains now to highlight in our studies, in our annual reports, the very broad appeal that most writing centers enjoy on our campuses and the cost-effective manner in which we operate. Most of us, for example, are advised to include in our annual reports hard numbers (As opposed to soft numbers? Or easy numbers?): number of students served (Do you want fries with that?), number of students from each course, from each major, from each year, from each school, always-another-from-each-that-I-seem-to-have-forgotten. Is this what we do? No. But do we do it? Yes. And we do it for "good" reasons, I suppose, though I don't feel like writing about those. What I do feel like writing about is what happens when we mistake doing it for what we do -- and when our colleagues, administrators, and occasionally our tutors and students, follow us in making the same mistake. I feel like thinking about what happens when we fetishize the numbers of students we see from every end of campus, the numbers of hours we've worked, the numbers of students we've helped to retain for so comparatively little cost, rather than what happened during those hours, between those students. It is rare that annual reports -- my own included -- tell stories of the latter.

Over My Shoulder: Composition and the Academy: A Study of Writing Program Administration

Here, if you don't remember, are the rules to Over My Shoulder. The book here is:

Hartzog, Carol P. Composition and the Academy: A Study of Writing Program Administration. New York: Modern Language Association, 1986.

and the quotation is from page 90.

[Erika Lindemann's TA training] manual sends teaching assistants a message something like this: The teaching of writing is a sophisticated practice, grounded in theory, history, and research. You can do it, and you can do it well. Those of us preparing the manual know more about teaching writing than you do right now, and we've reached consensus on how it should be done, but we trust you to carry it out and gradually to develop your own variations, your own distinctive style and practice. This work is important: it matters to your students now and throughout their careers, and it matters to you, personally and professionally. You should do it well and with dignity, and it will be a good experience for you. You begin as a novice who needs instruction and support, but you join a community; it is a sharing community, and you will make your own contributions to your students and your peers. You will be called to account, but you will be judged fairly. You will know what's expected, and you will be given direction and help. You will be treated with the same respect we want you to give your students.

Books purchased at Charlotte airport

1. Smart Organizing: Simple Strategies for Bringing Order to Your Home, by Sandra Felton (the organizer lady!). I'm the biggest sucker for this 43folders kind of stuff. Jonathan will be so exasperated upon reading this post.

2. The Nanny Diaries, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Various friends have been telling me to read this book for years, so why not now?

3. The Cylons' Secret, by Craig Shaw Gardner. Until now, I have never read one of those "based on the TV series" novels, though I have been very tempted, especially with books related to the Buffyverse, Star Trek, and to a lesser extent, Star Wars. I'm bracing myself for something abysmal.

Over My Shoulder

From Gabriel García Márquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores, page 65:

Thanks to her I confronted my inner self for the first time as my ninetieth year went by. I discovered that my obsession for having each thing in the right place, each subject at the right time, each word in the right style, was not the well-deserved reward of an ordered mind but just the opposite: a complete system of pretense invented by me to hide the disorder of my nature. I discovered that I am not disciplined out of virtue but as a reaction to my negligence, that I appear generous in order to conceal my meanness, that I pass myself off as prudent because I am evil-minded, that I am conciliatory in order not to succumb to my repressed rage, that I am punctual only to hide how little I care about other people's time. I learned, in short, that love is not a condition of the spirit but a sign of the zodiac.

Novels Read During Break

  • Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise
  • Jamaica Kincaid, The Autobiography of My Mother
  • Julia Alvarez, Saving the World
  • Zadie Smith, White Teeth

The semester has started, and I just want to get back in my fiction hidey-hole.

The Autobiography of My Mother

The following is a sort-of review of Jamaica Kincaid's Autobiography of My Mother. This is the sort of thing I post on my blog that tends to end up getting plagiarized for someone's assignment. It's so obvious from the referrers: people search for something like "essays julia alvarez in the time of the butterflies." Then, a while later, there come those searches for a sentence or two of my post in quotation marks. For those portions of my audience, then:

1. You really ought to read the book yourself. This you're about to read is my personal reaction to it. You may very well see something I didn't. Also, my book review may not touch on the content of your particular course. This will be a dead giveaway for your teacher. Finally, it offends me that you would take my name off this and put yours on. I put time and effort into reading the book and writing my review.

2. Glad you found the original source. Typing that sentence into Google and seeing that hit come up feels like a punch in the gut, I know.

Forgive that distraction, but I wanted my opinion to be right here in the post. My friend Darren has a similar note, but on the About page of his blog:

A special note to students: if you quote from this site—and judging by traffic statistics, The Woman Warrior, Benito Cereno, July's People, and Buried Child are popular choices—please cite it properly. Your teachers are not stupid.

On with the review...

Prior to this, I had read the following works by Kincaid: Annie John, Lucy, A Small Place, and At the Bottom of the River. I own My Brother and Mr. Potter and hope to read those when I get back home after the holidays.

I started reading Kincaid in college. A professor had assigned her short story "Girl" in a class, and I went out and got my hands on all the Kincaid I could. I did that all the time with other authors I liked. Do undergraduate students still do that? I would love to hear about it if they do. :-)

Whereas Annie John and Lucy are Bildungsromane, albeit with their own complexities about race, economics (Lucy is an au pair for a white family), and identity, Autobiography is on a par with A Small Place in its exploration of colonialism and its consequences.

The narrator, Xuela Claudette Richardson, has a father who is half Scottish, half African. Her father has wholly identified with his Scottish side; he is greedy and power-hungry. The narrator is sent to live with several different families, but for a time lives with her father and his new wife. The new wife gives birth to two children, a girl and a boy. Xuela has no friends, and she feels no love or affection for anyone, though she has several lovers; as a character she is shockingly empty, but she does have sympathy for the poor, "defeated" people around her in the aggregate and abstract. She is indifferent to her half-siblings until the boy dies of a terrible disease and the girl experiences an unwanted pregnancy (Xuela helps her terminate the pregnancy).

Xuela doesn't love anyone, and she doesn't want anyone to love her. The postcolonial condition of herself and others in her community coupled with the loss of her mother, a Carib woman, in childbirth cause Xuela to be utterly alienated from everyone. By that I mean that people in her country don't trust each other; as children, they are taught not to trust anyone, and they are trained to be ashamed of themselves -- their hair, skin color, and language ("proper English" and French or English patois are referenced several times. Xuela's stepmother speaks to her in patois as a sign of disrespect, for example).

Recurring themes include defeat, sex (and the absence of its attendant shame, and masturbation, and fascination with one's body), disappointment, silence (and its various characters), internalized misogyny (the women in the novel hate each other inexplicably), existential crisis. There's an example of that last one on page 202:

It is said that unless you are born a god, your life, from its very beginning, is a mystery to you. You are conceived; you are born: these things are true, how could they not be, but you don't know them; you only have to believe them, for there is no other explanation. You are a child and you find the world big and round and you have to find a place in it. How to do that is yet another mystery, and no one can tell you how exactly. You become a woman, a grown-up person. Against ample evidence, against your better judgment, you put trust in the constancy of things, you place faith in their everydayness. One day you open your door, you step out in your yard, but the ground is not there and you fall into a hole that has no bottom and no sides and no color. The mystery of the hole in the ground gives way to the mystery of your fall; just when you get used to falling and falling forever, you stop, and that stopping is yet another mystery, for why did you stop, there is not an answer to that any more than there is an answer to why you fell in the first place. Who you are is a mystery no one can answer, not even you. And why not, why not!

Xuela also gives sensuous descriptions of landscapes and bodies, and she reflects at length on motherhood, mothering, and the absence of a mother. It was a great novel, and I recommend it.

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